By Alan Gomez
The first known DREAMer to allege he was improperly deported by U.S. Border Patrol agents was arrested for trying to illegally re-enter the country for the second time this year, authorities said Wednesday.
Juan Manuel Montes, 23, was caught late Monday after he was spotted on the U.S. side of the border by agents monitoring video feeds near Calexico, Calif., where he had lived for most of his life, according to a Border Patrol statement. Montes ran for about 200 yards, dropped to the ground, tried to flee again as Border Patrol agents approached him, but was quickly caught and arrested.
He was booked into the Imperial County Jail and is facing a federal felony charge that could result in up to two years in prison.
Montes has claimed he was deported by Border Patrol agents in February despite having deportation protections through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. That would have made him the first known DACA enrollee deported under the Trump administration.
Border Patrol has refuted his claim, arguing that it has no record of deporting Montes that February night. The government says Montes must have left the country voluntarily without getting approval, which would have immediately terminated his DACA status.
A group of lawyers sued the Trump administration to win his return to the U.S., and a federal judge in San Diego was preparing to hold a trial in December to figure out exactly what happened. U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel was also willing to let Montes back into the country so he could testify on his own behalf.
But in October, Montes informed his lawyers that he wanted to drop the case. He had been living with relatives in his native Mexico for eight months, and provided no explanation for ending his lawsuit.
His lawyers have said Montes suffers from a cognitive disability due to an undisclosed incident that happened in his childhood.
Montes was protected under the 5-year-old program created by President Obama to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the country as minors, a group known as DREAMers. The program has shielded nearly 800,000 people from deportation and granted them work permits.
Their status is now in limbo after President Trump announced in September that he would end the program. Trump gave Congress six months to pass a bill to protect DREAMers, but hinted that he might extend their DACA protections if Congress fails to find a solution.
It’s unclear whether any of that would matter for Montes.
He first tried to re-enter the U.S. in February, shortly after the night where he says he was deported and Border Patrol says he left on his own. He was caught by Border Patrol agents after he scaled the border wall, and was quickly deported.
Monday’s arrest would mark the second time he tried to re-enter the country. Under federal law, illegally re-entering the U.S. after being deported is a felony offense punishable by a fine and up to two years in prison, according to the Department of Justice.
“Border Patrol Agents will always stop, detain, and arrest anyone making an illegal entry into the country irrespective of their immigration or citizenship status,” Assistant Chief Patrol Agent David Kim said.
Montes’ lawyers did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.